Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries
Our Fourth Age: A tribal elder's story for young Homines sapientes about their future history. [October 1 target publication date]
Foretelling the future is the third oldest profession behind brewing beer. Why? Because fear of the world has been bred into our bones over the millennia and with good reason. I came to this realization later in life than I should have. I blame it on my upbringing.
I’ve spent over forty years trying to get government officials, corporate officers, and graduate students to confront the future. The problem is the old saw that managers do things right, while leaders do the right things. Hoping that the future will look like the past is a safe easy way to avoid thinking about an uncertain future. Because the unknown is scary. Better not to think about it, put your head down, keep doing what you are doing, and hope for the best.
This isn’t a new problem. 2,600 years ago, Aesop’s ant was warning Greek grasshoppers about the need to plan for tomorrow. Long-term planning has always been unsettling. It requires thinking about scary stuff. In my professional experience the only time people think—really think—about the future is when they are desperate. Which is when it is usually too late.
The rate and degree of change are increasing. In 1935 the average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company was ninety years. In 2016 it was eighteen. Between 1970 and 2015, the average lifespan of all publicly traded companies nearly halved. Half of all countries are shrinking and aging. All of the things that have stood the test of time are trembling in the tempest. And yet. Scratch the surface and, underneath, we are still hunters with spears stalking a mammoth.
What a bizarre juxtaposition. Are we up for it? Do we have the capacity to cope with what is coming? When speaking about the dangers of genetic manipulation, Spencer Wells sounded a cautionary note, expressing concern that the debate required a “scientifically literate public”.
When it comes to the future of the human race, I don’t think we need a cautionary note. I think we need a cautionary claxon. Preferably a really big one. Maybe off of a battleship. And that is what this story is about. In my own small imperfect way I hope to provoke, for my grandchildrens’ sake, some arguments about where we should go from here.
Because the times, they are achanging.
Terry Vernon Thiele
Wilmington, North Carolina
PHOTOGRAPH: “The oracle bones are pieces of bone or turtle plastron bearing the answers to divination during the late Shang Dynasty (1766-1050 BC). They were heated and cracked, then typically inscribed using a bronze pin in what is known as the Oracle Bone Script (甲骨文), the earliest known significant corpus of ancient Chinese writing.” Xuan Che. Pit of oracle bones (甲骨). July 18, 2008. Anyang Yinxu, China. CC BY 2.0. https://flic.kr/p/7KvwdN.
yinxu - oracle bones